What is a dumbbell? If you quickly rattled off the name of someone you know, chances are you've got a good sense of humor but are using the noun "dumbbell" in the incorrect way.

Put simply, a dumbbell is a centralized handle with weighted heads at each opposite end. Dumbbell heads are typically found in a variety of thicknesses, diameters and shapes such as round or hexagon. These different head sizes dictate the total weight of the dumbbell, which can be manufactured in pounds, half pounds and kilograms.

Dumbbells have long been regarded as one of the most effective exercise tools used in building strength and muscle. They can also be found in many rehabilitation centers. There is no muscle in the body that cannot benefit from training with dumbbells. They can be used to perform isolation movements for muscles in both the upper and lower body. They can also be used in compound movements incorporating the posterior and anterior chain.

If you are purchasing dumbbells, chances are you are researching the type of dumbbell that best suits your personal needs or the needs of a facility such as a training studio or full-size commercial gym. Those purchasing dumbbells typically want to know what types of dumbbells fit in their budget and what type of dumbbell will best address the needs of their facility such as quality, longevity, impact protection and other details. The guide below is meant to call out different types of dumbbells and their attributes to help you make an educated decision when buying pairs or sets of dumbbells.

Residential Dumbbells

Residential dumbbells are meant to be used in the home. Dumbbells manufactured for home use usually don't poses the structural integrity required to be used in a commercial gym where they are used all day long and can be frequently dropped or abused. Even though the cheaper cost of the residential quality dumbbell can be enticing, they can often create unwanted liability for a business owner.

What type of dumbbells are considered to be for home use?

Neoprene Dumbbells Neoprene dumbbells are manufactured using a cast iron core that is dipped in various colors of neoprene, a synthetic polymer. Neoprene is a pliable material that remains comfortable making them ideal for high repetition sets and to be combined with a cardio training routine. Neoprene dumbbells usually have an ergonomic shaped handle with either round or hex shaped heads.

  • Size Range: 1-15 lbs.
  • Pro's: Affordable, compact, colorful and will not scratch floors.
  • Con's: Can be harder to clean and neoprene coating can become damaged or even tear over an extended period.

Vinyl Dumbbells Vinyl dumbbells are very similar to neoprene dumbbells in appearance. They too feature solid cast iron construction and are offered in many different colors. Vinyl is a smoother material than neoprene and while they may be easier to clean than neoprene, they can also be more slippery in sweaty hands.

  • Size Range: 1-15 lbs.
  • Pro's: Affordable, compact, colorful and will not scratch floors.
  • Con's: Vinyl coating can become damaged or even tear over time.

Iron Hex Dumbbells Iron hex dumbbells are usually the go-to dumbbell choice for the home gym enthusiast that is price conscious but needs a dumbbell set that can grow as their strength increases. Hex dumbbells are usually painted with a gray baked-on enamel paint and have either straight or contoured handles.

  • Size Range: 1-120 lbs.
  • Pro's: Affordable, compact, maintenance free, available in heavy weights, different handle options available.
  • Con's: Paint can chip over time. Weighted heads can snap off if dropped. Economy iron hex dumbbells can vary in weight accuracy.

Rubber Hex Dumbbells The Rubber Hex Dumbbell is the 2.0 version of the iron hex dumbbell. Most rubber hex dumbbells will have a chromed ergonomically shaped handle with distinct black rubber heads in the shape of a hexagon. The rubber hex dumbbell can be purchased with round steel handles that are knurled and chromed.

  • Size Range: 3-120 lbs.
  • Pro's: Affordable, compact, maintenance free, available in heavy weights, different handle options available, helps protect floors and surrounding equipment from dings and scratches and heads will not rust.
  • Con's: Weighted heads can separate from the handle if dropped. Economy rubber hex dumbbells can carry a pungent odor similar to rotten eggs. Economy rubber hex dumbbells can vary in weight accuracy.

Chrome Dumbbells Chromed dumbbells, while not as popular today as they once were, are one of the most aesthetically pleasing dumbbell choices. Heads and handles are usually machined from solid steel using a CNC (Computerized Numerical Control) creating a smoother finish with more fine details than most dumbbells. They are also known to be very accurate in weight. Chrome dumbbells are also referred to as "beauty bells".

  • Size Range: 3-50 lbs.
  • Pro's: Beautiful, compact, comfortable handle and accurate weight.
  • Con's: Pricey, weight does not exceed 50 lbs. and can rust in humid or damp environments.

Adjustable Dumbbells Adjustable dumbbells are one of the most popular dumbbells for home use. You don't need much room to store them as they are typically equivalent to numerous pairs of dumbbells consolidated into one single pair. Most even offer an optional dumbbell rack. Best of all, adjustable dumbbells make it possible for more people to own an entire dumbbell set because they are more affordable compared to purchasing a full run.

There are many types of adjustable, or "compact", dumbbells. Designs range from selector dials to selector pins. Other adjustable dumbbells include adjustable plate loaded handles that secure weight plates with a dumbbell collar or threaded collar known as "star lock".

  • Size Range: 5-90 lbs.
  • Pro's: Compact, affordable, optional dumbbell stands available, quick weight changes, easy to use.
  • Con's: Only one person at a time can use and can incur damage if dropped.

Commercial Dumbbells

Commercial dumbbells are built to be used all day in dues paying facilities such as commercial gyms and clubs. The commercial dumbbell is structurally many times stronger than the residential dumbbell and made to withstand impact if dropped. Because of their inherent strength, the commercial dumbbell can be found in sizes up to as high as 200 lbs. and in some hard-core facilities even higher.

What type of dumbbell is manufactured for commercial use? Today there are many commercial dumbbell types that offer a great investment for the club owner. You'll notice that some of the dumbbells below also appear in the residential dumbbell section above. Read on as we explain why this is and what the exceptions are:

Neoprene Dumbbells – The neoprene dumbbell is compact and lightweight making it ideal for group training classes in commercial gyms and clubs. Most neoprene dumbbells are color-coded allowing for easy weight identification from far distances. Some manufacturers offer specialized neoprene dumbbell racks that hold up to 44 pairs of bells. These racks can also have caster wheels for easy mobility and locking bars to keep the bells secure when not in use.

  • Size Range: 1-15 lbs.
  • Pro's: Compact, comfortable handle, color-coded, won't roll, will not scratch floors, optional racks available for large numbers of bells.
  • Con's: Can be harder to clean and neoprene coating can become damaged or even tear over time.

Vinyl Dumbbells – Similar to the neoprene dumbbell, the vinyl dumbbell can be used in a residential or commercial setting. They too are offered in multiple colors and have optional portable and locking racks to choose from.

  • Size Range: 1-15 lbs.
  • Pro's: Compact, comfortable handle, color-coded, easier to keep clean than neoprene, won't roll, will not scratch floors, optional racks available for large numbers of bells.
  • Con's: More slippery than neoprene in sweaty hands and vinyl coating can become damaged or even tear over time.

Iron Hex Dumbbells – If purchasing iron hex dumbbells for commercial use, the most important feature is the one you can't see; the inside construction! Most brands of iron hex dumbbells from 3-20 lbs. are constructed from a solid cast iron mold. Iron hex dumbbells rated for commercial use will feature either a round or ergonomic solid steel handle from sizes 25 lbs. on up. The heads of the commercial hex dumbbell will also be pinned or threaded to the shaft of the handle. This makes them impact resistant and will not allow the heads to break or slide off as can happen with home quality hex dumbbells that are either cast from one single piece of cast iron or simply have the dumbbell handle glued inside the dumbbell head.

  • Size Range: 1-120 lbs.
  • Pro's: Affordable, compact, different handle options, heavy sizes available, won't roll.
  • Con's: Paint can chip off, stated weights can be inaccurate and heads can separate from handle if dropped. Hampton Fitness and York Barbell provide a commercial iron hex dumbbell that are specially designed to be safely used in commercial facilities.

Rubber Hex Dumbbells – Just like the iron hex dumbbell, if purchasing for a commercial facility the most important feature is how the heads connect to the handles. Quality rubber hex dumbbells manufactured for commercial use will feature either threaded or pinned head/handle designs making it almost impossible for the two to separate. Cheaply made rubber hex dumbbells are simply glued together making it possible for the heads to slide off the handle shaft if dropped which, in a commercial facility, can create a much unwanted safety hazard to members and a liability for owners.

  • Size Range: 3-120 lbs.
  • Pro's: More affordable than other coated dumbbell options, compact, maintenance free, available in heavy weights, different handle options available, helps protect floors and surrounding equipment from dings and scratches, won't roll and heads will not rust.
  • Con's: Weighted heads can separate from the handle on poor quality bells if dropped. Economy rubber hex dumbbells can carry a pungent odor similar to rotten eggs. Economy rubber hex dumbbells can vary in weight accuracy.

Chrome Dumbbells – The chrome dumbbell, or "Beauty Bell", is constructed from solid steel and is usually high quality in nature. Chrome dumbbell sets are often seen on beauty bell racks in the free weight areas of commercial gyms. They are typically used for lighter weight training exercises by themselves or incorporated with a weight bench.

  • Size Range: 3-50 lbs.
  • Pro's: Great look, compact, comfortable handle and accurate weight.
  • Con's: Pricey, weight does not exceed 50 lbs. and can rust in humid or damp environments.

Pro-Style Dumbbells The Pro-Style dumbbell is perhaps the most recognizable dumbbell throughout commercial gyms. Known for being able to withstand harsh environments and hard core weightlifters, the pro-style can be built to reach 200 lbs. or more….each! The most common runs seen in commercial gyms are 5-100 and 5-150 lbs., which are usually stored on two tier dumbbell racks.

The pro-style dumbbell is assembled using multiple components. First there is the pro-style dumbbell handle having either a round or ergonomic shape. The end of the dumbbell shaft past the shoulder is responsible for holding the cast iron weight plates. At the end of the dumbbell shaft is an internally threaded hole that accepts a large, fine thread Allen head bolt. The Allen bolt is accompanied by a chrome washer that both affix the dumbbell plates to the dumbbell handle. This Allen bolt usually has a thread locker, such as Loctite, applied to it and is then torqued down using an air impact wrench. It's not uncommon to see a machined end cap in place of this chrome washer. End caps create a more user-friendly dumbbell by making it much more comfortable to rest the bell on the thighs before a set of presses. These steel end caps can be black oxide, chrome, rubber or urethane encased most of the time having a recessed sticker indicating the weight.

  • Size Range: 5-200 lbs. or more
  • Pro's: Can be custom built using different styles of handles and plates. Strong design built for the harshest of environments. Handles or plates can be replaced at a later date if ever damaged. One of the largest weight capacities.
  • Con's: Can eventually loosen if repeatedly dropped causing plates to spin and clang. Some find the protruding chrome washer to be uncomfortable when resting on the thighs, especially for the heavier sizes (this can be remedied with end caps).

Solid Steel Dumbbells Perhaps the most sought after dumbbell of the military and fitness clubs, the solid steel dumbbell is regarded for its high strength, no maintenance design. Most solid steel dumbbells are created by press fitting a solid steel handle into various size and weight solid steel slugs. Once conjoined, the handle, which can be round or ergonomically shaped, is then fully welded to the slug adding to its strength. Solid steel dumbbell heads can be painted or encased with rubber or urethane. For the best longevity and impact protection, urethane is the most popular.

  • Size Range: 5-200 lbs.
  • Pro's: Strongest design, maintenance free, compact, multiple handle choices, low to no odor, multiple coating choices and can be custom engraved with logo.
  • Con's: Usually the most expensive.

Now that you've read up on residential and commercial dumbbells and what the differences are, you can now make an educated buying decision that you won't soon regret.

Need assistance selecting the best dumbbells for your needs? Call Ironcompany.com today at 1-888-758-7527 or email quotes@ironcompany.com

About the Author

J.P. Brice founded IRON COMPANY in 1996 and is currently President and CEO. He began weightlifting in 1984 at the age of 14 and by the age of 25 turned his passion for fitness into one of the webs first and leading fitness equipment and gym flooring suppliers. He holds numerous Patents and Trademarks on various fitness equipment products and is the lead designer of IRON COMPANY branded free weights and strength training equipment. Today he works extensively with the US Military in providing the equipment necessary for combat readiness.